ON THE OFFICIAL first night of summer, I was at a friend’s rooftop party, and was asked when I planned to depart for the West Coast. While it’s true that I have a professional project that requires my presence for a week in August, as I launch a literary festival high in the Northern Cascade mountains of Washington, I also realized that my plan to spend that month on the West Coast arose purely out of habit. I would fly to Palm Springs, pass through Los Angeles, stop over in San Francisco, and linger in Portland. The thing is, I’ve done all those trips, almost every year for the past few years. And so, when I was asked my departure date, I surprised everyone by responding that I wasn’t going to go, except to work, and that from now on, I dedicate myself to new adventures. This trend had revealed itself in nascent form when I had stunned my family and friends over dinner by announcing that I’d rather spend my upcoming birthday in Morocco than at the Ritz in Paris. (In the end, I stunned no one by proceeding to work straight through it.)
A week or two ago, I received an email about language classes at Idlewild Books, one of my favorite shops in New York. The proprietor, one of my bosom lunch companions, formerly worked for the United Nations while dreaming of opening a bookstore where the titles, a well-culled mix of guides and literature, would be shelved by region. If it sounds ready for central casting, it totally is; when Julia Roberts’ production company was scouting locations for Eat, Pray, Love, I heard that they were interested in using the store as a possible setting for her publishing office.
Given the choice of French, Italian or Spanish, I gravitated naturally toward French, since I’ve been taking it on and off since around the time I began to speak English, and it could always be better. Italian mildly interested me, until I realized that with Spanish, I could travel to entirely new parts of the world that had never occurred to me. While I’ve always had boyfriends and admirers who hiked through Mexican jungles and swathes of the Andes on archeological digs (and brought me back one of my most cherished possessions, a black alpaca poncho from Moquegua, Peru), scaled glaciers to unwind, and considered buying surf shacks in countries that have a Marxist property code (and therefore require armed guards to ensure that no one invokes squatters’ rights, as it was patiently explained to me), my vacations tend to be a week in Paris or London, in upscale, central neighborhoods and often filled with work-related engagements. It was on my last one that I realized that a business trip is not a holiday. In London, I had so many appointments, that were so rushed, that one day, at a bar in a train station, all I had for lunch was gin. I dedicate myself to new adventures.
I have no idea where I’d like to begin my travels, and I’m beginning to think that’s the point. Classes start on Tuesday, and, in the meantime, I’m summoning the muses…
In Returning to A, her wonderful memoir of Andalucia (published by City Lights in 1995, and a little difficult to track down but well worth it), Dorien Ross details her experience learning from masters of Spanish flamenco such as Paco de Lucia. It’s frankly amazing, even as she weaves in the tragic story of her brother’s suicide back in the United States. I am especially tempted by the prospect of a month or so in Seville, continuing my lessons.
Before she was C.Z. Guest, icon of the Slim Aarons oeuvre, Miss Cochrane was said to have posed for this portrait by the muralist Diego Rivera, which hung in a hotel bar in Mexico City. When she married, rumor has it that her husband’s family quietly acquired the piece. She went on to be a renowned gardening columnist and all-around arbiter of style, but none of her later accomplishments quite transcend this fiery postcard from her debutante days.
And, of course, then there’s Ava Gardner, patron saint of more than a few of my transformations, chief among them that time that I gave a hairdresser a photo of her with a gamine crop and asked him to cut off my nearly elbow-length hair in similar fashion. Gardner was known for her affection for bullfighters, the subject of one of my favorite passages in the biography of her, Love is Nothing, involving her husband, Frank Sinatra:
[Upon his arrival in Barcelona, reporters] eagerly updated him on the latest details of Ava’s friendship with the matador, Sinatra listening glumly, saying he had heard Cabre’s name, knew nothing about him. He was holding a package wrapped in tissue paper, and someone asked if that was a present for Miss Gardner.
‘What do you think, pal?’
‘I think it’s jewelry for Miss Gardner.’
(Sinatra had brought two gifts from home: six bottles of Coca-Cola — she had bemoaned its unavailability in Tossa– and a ten-thousand-dollar necklace.)
I’m not sure where I’m going to head next, but it may require something on that scale to coax me back. Yo me dedico a nuevas aventuras.